Water Vole

Durham Priority Species
  1. Home
  2. Biodiversity Priorities
  3. Durham Priority Species
  4. Water Vole

Water Vole Action Plan

Priority Species: Water Vole

1. Maintain the current population and range of water voles within the Durham BAP area
2. Expand and improve existing habitat, create new habitat and connect goof habitat in order to link up water vole colonise and increase water vole population and distribution
3. Raise awareness and promote education of the status and need of the water vole
4. Establish and maintain a comprehensive understanding of water vole distribution, status and ecological requirements through research, survey and monitoring

Vision Statement: To achieve an expansion of both population and range.

Target Type Unit Value
1. To maintain the current population and range of water voles within the Durham BAP area. maintain occupied km squares  67
2. To expand the current range of water vole in the Durham BAP area by 20 sites every 5 years. expand sites 20

The water vole is Britain’s largest vole and attains a similar size to the brown rat. In the UK, as the name suggests, water voles are closely associated with water, favouring slow moving streams and rivers, canals, ponds and reedbeds. Water voles predominately inhabit burrow systems along streamsides and riverbanks, although they are known to build nests at the base of reeds and rushes and also nest within tussock forming vegetation. Water voles are almost entirely herbivorous, feeding on a range of material depending on the season, from emergent aquatic vegetation to the bark of riparian trees and shrubs.

Water vole numbers are thought to have declined dramatically by 93% in our area between 1990 and 1998-99, due to habitat loss and associated population fragmentation, which has made isolated populations vulnerable to predation by non-native mink and stochastic factors such as flooding and persecution by man. Conservation projects have demonstrated that in the correct habitat and with reduced predation pressure by mink water vole numbers can quickly recover.

Local status

Water vole numbers have fallen nationally, but there is a general trend of higher numbers in the south and east of the country compared to the north and west. On a regional level Durham has some of the best populations, particularly in northern and eastern lowland areas and the valleys of the Tees and Wear in the North Pennines. The current population trend is uncertain, as there has been no co-ordinated survey effort since 1996-98, although a regional baseline survey is underway during 2006 and this should allow a trend to be established.


  • Habitat fragmentation and population isolation.
  • Inappropriate riparian management.
  • Predation by mink.
  • Persecution.